Australia is huge, and nothing drives that home harder than driving from coast to coast. Alice wants you to take the plunge, see what most of us don’t, and explore our great land. Troopy Travels is her journey, but it could be yours too.
Sometimes in life you want a secure home, comfy couch, well-equipped kitchen, plenty of storage space, and, of course, the ability to four-wheel drive. In this case, a high-top Troop Carrier is the ideal home sweet home. The perks – a constantly changing backyard, having all your stuff with you at all times, turning the whole country into your playground, pure unadulterated freedom, and of course the hours (and hours) available to catch up on all the latest podcasts – are hard to pass up.
In 2017, after many months of searching and an impromptu trip to Cairns, we bought Ohana, a 1998 75-series Toyota Landcruiser bushcamper (hightop) Troop Carrier. After some renovations, we set off on an 8000km trip to see some of our amazing country.
Our plan was to do a major engine conversion and get her running on hot chip oil (like travelling musician Charlie McGee of Formidable Vegetable Soundsystem). Those plans were quickly sidelined by the huge amount of work needed to make her liveable – a full overhaul, removing the entire interior, treating rust spots, insulating, rebuilding broken wall panels, sewing curtains and finally installing the furniture needed to make her comfy.
With the help of an eccentric stoned aluminium-worker out the back of Billinudgel, we crafted a pull-out bench/bed conversion complete with a lifting lid (perfect for storing surfboards and free dive gear underneath). A few months of construction later we had a working sink (with foot pump, linked to the 60L tank underneath), tiled kitchen bench, 12V fridge, a spice drawer and a couple of pot plants. Ready to roll.
How To Turn Your Vehicle Into An Adventure-mobile
- Google And Gumtree Are Your New Best Friends – For finding unique objects, selling all that stuff you no longer need, or learning how to wire up your new solar panels. Someone somewhere has done it before and probably shared a how-to guide.
- Do Your Research – While people have done it before, that’s no guarantee they’ve done it right. Different fridges, electrical set-ups, storage spaces, everything has pros & cons so take your time to find what fits (and how it fits) before you start. We spent many hours sitting in the shell of a Troopy visualising, sketching and constructing layouts from newspaper, tape and boxes, before we started actually building anything.
- Suit Yourself– Take the time to think about what adventures you plan to have in your van (or truck). Ours was geared towards long-term living but if you’re a weekend warrior then you probably don’t need pot plants. But you may need a bike rack, ukulele storage space or a portable cooker. Whatever steams your beans.
- Think Minimalist: Less Is More – If you have space, you’ll fill it up with stuff. Plan to take just what you need and don’t overload (but make sure you have space for the important things – our stovetop coffee machine and backgammon board may not seem essential, but come on, they are).
- Here Comes The Sun, Use It – Solar panels are cheap and easy to install, and with a second battery you can make sure cameras and phones are charged, run a fridge and have LED lights. With a good inverter you can even charge laptops and other 240V toys.
On The Road: Byron To The Blue Mountains
Before setting off on the long cross-country journey, we headed up north from our home in Byron Bay to test out the four-wheel drive on the sandy beaches of North Stradbroke Island. Flinder’s Beach campsite is an exclusive location right on the beach, with ocean views available to a select group of the elite (i.e. four-wheel-drive access only).
We quickly learnt how to find the best hard sand to drive on, and how to get 2 tonnes of Troopy out of soft sand. After a good wash we set off down the coast, got our last fix of greenery and waterfalls in the Blue Mountains, and headed for South Australia.
Here Be Dragons: South Australia
For lovers of wildlife and wild coastlines, the Eyre Peninsula is a paradise waiting to be explored. Leafy sea dragons and giant cuttlefish lurk in the coastal waters, and sea lions and great white sharks are a short boat trip away. Rocky cliffs backed by red soil and countless kangaroos meet the Southern Ocean.
The Eyre Peninsula
Here was the place the blissful reality of van life set in for us – waking up on the coast at Sleaford Bay, watching surfing dolphins from bed with the smell of freshly brewed coffee and not another soul to be seen (apart from the kangaroos behind us).
Explore the clifftops around Sleaford Bay Rd for some sweet parking spots, or if you have longer there’s some proper campsites and amazing hiking trails in Lincoln National Park. The nearby town of Port Lincoln is also the last place to stock up on emergency supplies (e.g. car jack, fan belts and duct tape) before heading off into the infinite abyss of the Nullarbor. Plus they do a great hot chips and pineapple fritters at King Neptune’s.
Across The Bottom: Nullarbor Highway
A tourist attraction based on its complete lack of tourist attractions, the Nullarbor is home to the longest straight road on the planet, and also a whole lot of camels and, you guessed it, more kangaroos. The fuel is ridiculously expensive ($1.80/L) but the warm Emu lager is cheap.
We would wake up early, drive all day, and stop well before sunset to avoid wildlife casualties. There are plenty of free roadside campsites, some with more epic views than others. We stayed at a great one 13km east of the WA border (creatively named “Border Village 13km east”) – the ocean views and whale spotting make a nice change from the dusty road, wrecked cars and scrub.
While it wasn’t the gruelling experience we’d been warned of, it was a relief to get to the endless white sand beaches and turquoise ocean of Esperance. Make sure your water is well-stocked and your fuel is full before you start.
West, It Might Really Be The Best: South-West Coast to Gnaraloo
West Australia is where the perks of owning a 4WD became extra perky. The coastal campsites of Boranup, climbing giant karri trees in Walpole’s national parks, surf beaches of Dunsborough, sand dunes of Lancelin and cliff roads of Kalbarri are pretty epic places to take your home to.
Gnaraloo And Ningaloo
Three Mile Campsite is a mix of long-term campers with the ultimate setups, Perth escapees and die-hard surfers – all with a love of solitude, seclusion and the sea. With incredible coral reef snorkeling (it’s the southern tip of the Ningaloo Reef) and insane waves for anyone brave enough to paddle out.
From our campsite in barren seaside scrub, we could play backgammon while watching whales passing by, and I caught some of the most epic sunsets of my life.
Ningaloo Reef: Exmouth And Coral Bay
From there it’s just a short hop past sea lion colonies, stromatolites and Shark Bay, to the Exmouth peninsula – an oceanic paradise with a side of desert. With funds running low this is where we stopped to find some work – if you can call walking dogs on the beach, or snorkelling with manta rays for money ‘work’.
Exmouth & Coral Bay are the ultimate place to get stuck for a while, with limitless microadventures for days off.
There’s plenty to keep you busy & stoked while exploring the coastal national park, surf beaches, shipwrecks & wildlife of the north-west, here’s a few to get you started.
There’s a megalodon tooth fossil hidden in Cape Range National Park, a kayak down Yardie Creek will take you to a land of black-footed rock wallabies flanked by sheer cliffs, there’s a razor-backed ridge to hike through Charles Knife gorge and shallow coral reefs where you can spot stingrays and sharks from your SUP in Turquoise Bay.
Plus there are more emus there than anywhere I’ve ever been – a near constant source of entertainment as they steal sandwiches from unsuspecting tourists (consider yourself warned). If you’re planning to camp in the national park (highly recommended) then you’ll need to book in advance as the coveted spots fill up fast.
Start Point: Byron Bay
End Point: Exmouth
Byron Bay → North Stradbroke Island → Byron Bay → Sydney → Wentworth Falls → Caragbal → Lake Benanee → Winninowie → Sleaford Bay → Cactus → Jillbunya Rockhole → Twilight Beach → Perth → Dunsborough → Margaret River → Walpole → Denmark → Perth → Jurien Bay → Kalbarri → Shell Beach → The Blowhole → 3 Mile → Gnaraloo → Carnarvon → Coral Bay → Exmouth
Go Chase Some Sunsets!
Doing a drive like this doesn’t just teach you how to dodge kangaroos, but also many great life skills – from the many facts I learned from informative podcasts, to just how incredibly epic our country is (just in case you needed some more reminding).
My previous Aussie road trip experience was limited to about a thousand trips along the middle bit of the east coast. And while that part is great, it’s mind-blowing how much else ‘Straya has to offer. I hope this article inspires other people to take a shot at life on the road. It doesn’t have to be a life-long commitment, or even a week long. Get in your car and drive past some horizons.
Fill up your car with your friends, dog, hiking gear or surfboard. Go chase some sunsets, sand dunes, bush hikes or rock walls. You’ve got the whole country ahead of you. We’re so privileged to live in a country where wages are high and wilderness is boundless. Anyone can save up, get a vehicle, and get exploring. For that final inspiration, here are some wise words from road-trip guru Jack Kerouac:
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
Tips From Van-Lifers For Life On The Road
‘Keep making friends! On a trip through the Kimberley a few years ago, my band’s tour bus broke down a few days before we were due to hit the road to Darwin. It was the second time the gearbox had crapped out on us and, after hitchhiking with all of our instruments (including a double bass!) up the West Australian coast, we weren’t prepared to repeat the same manoeuvre through the desert. Thankfully, the friends we’d made in Broome offered to pool together their 4 vans and help us finish the tour. Not only did we get to to all of our gigs, but suddenly for the first time ever, we had roadies, a promotions and catering team and an awesome rent-a-crowd who helped bring the party every night!’ – Charlie McGee @formidableveg
‘My van life tip would be to keep a record or journal of all your favourite waterfalls, surf spots, nature spots, secret free camp spots, favourite cafes or markets, as you find them – you find so many when you are road tripping it’s nice to have a list of the good spots so you can return and always find new ones too. Also a gas-powered hot water shower makes a huge difference to life on the road!’ – Jonny Dustow @vanlifediaries
‘As they say at sea, ‘Take care of your boat, and it will take care of you.’ – Know and love your vehicle! My 33-year-old van has managed over 400,000km and is still happy and going strong. In the 8 years I owned him we made it around Aus twice including 5 Nullarbor crossings! All made possible cos of love! Service your vehicle regularly, don’t thrash the motor, take it to a mechanic when you hear a ‘funny’ noise and don’t ignore small problems (they’ll be guaranteed to turn into big ones $$$).’ – Hannah Cowley
- Get good at Google Maps – we found free-camping spots by using the satellite view of Google Maps, then spotting dirt roads that went off the beaten track.
- Watch your borders – fruit and veg aren’t allowed over the border with you into South Australia
- Invest in a dustpan and brush, a quick sweep and your home is as good as new.
- If you’re in desperate need of a real shower, often you can find a freebie (sometimes even with hot water) at the beach bathrooms or yacht clubs